A Conversation with Harold Budd

By Katy Dammers

Dec 15, 2015

Harold Budd took a moment in the airport on the way to New York to speak with Assistant Curator and Archive Manager Katy Dammers about his performance tonight as part of our Synth Nights series. Tonight Budd’s performance with Jane Maru and Bradford Ellis draws on poems from a new volume titled Aurora’s Tears that will be released by Heavenly Monkey Press in February 2016.

Katy Dammers: Much of the poetry in the show comes from Aurora’s Tears to be published by Heavenly Monkey Press. What themes are you exploring in that book?
Harold Budd: I spent the last year and a half as an invalid because I had broken my hip and my ribs in an auto accident. So writing was my only outlet. I started getting in a dream state and began writing again. It started out very simply: I was going to make 10 poems for Jane Maru and that was it, but at the end of 10 I saw that I had uncountable things more to say and so I continued. I stopped at number 59 because I had just completely shot it. It was all gone by then. 

KD: Aurora’s Tears is also going to include some of your visual artwork, particularly your arabesque drawings. How does your visual art practice relate to your compositions?
HB: I think quite closely. I can’t separate the two to be honest with you. When I do the arabesque drawings I have no plan. It starts coming out and I let it guide me. I don’t know where it’s going to go, and sometimes I guess in a way you’ll never see the ones that don’t pass my editorial view, but it’s a wonderful thing to let my brain be free and do a serious, intense activity that doesn’t require a continual groping for a distinct way to go. When it’s happening it’s great. 

KD: It sounds like automatic writing.
HB: Not only it is like that, it is exactly that. I hadn’t thought about that. 

KD: Do you feel a similar way when you’re writing your poetry?
HD: I do indeed, except I’m a little bit more self-critical. I reject words that don’t really have a zing to them that I sort of demand from myself. I don’t like soft words, words that are kind of convenient. As if I were to say—well I can’t think of a good word so I’ll use this one instead—I cannot allow that. 

KD: Jane has worked with you on a number of projects, most recently your improvised albums and she also contributed batik paintings to Aurora’s Tears. How did you meet Jane and what is your working relationship like?
HB: Well at the time Jane was living in a small community in the Mojave Desert called Twentynine Palms and I had just recently moved with my very young son to Joshua Tree. I was living in a beautiful house in the middle of 10 acres. I had no friends, it was the little dude and me. At some point I saw an ad at the local library for new batik paintings and I thought—wow, someone was doing something really intriguing, I think I will go and see them. In fact I did and it was Jane Maru. I liked her work a lot and we got to talking eventually and it clicked. I loved hanging out with her and I loved going to lunch with her, stuff like that. It wasn’t a romantic relationship at all, more an artistic one. It became more and more close and personal as we both blossomed. She is my best friend artistically. 

KD: The videos you made together are amazing. I can only imagine what coming into the studio each day and improvising together was like.
HB: It was gorgeous, the greatest fun in the world. I just loved it. The studio I was going to was Brad Ellis, who is part of the ensemble now. 

KD: I know you’ve worked with him for almost 30 years as a sound designer, but you’ve only started playing with him in the last year. How has your history in the recording studio played out in your performances?
HB: It’s like spreading butter on toast; it’s absolutely the easiest thing in the world—so natural, so effortless. I never think about it, there’s no conflict. I love art that isn’t competitive. 

KD: I know you, Jane, and Brad did something similar to what you’re going to do tomorrow in Joshua Tree earlier this year. How did that go?
HB: That went great, really beautiful. To be honest with you that was our try out, to see if it was working. If any of the three thought it wasn’t working out then that would be the end. When I wrote these poems I had no idea they would have any function outside of being read and being poems in a more traditional way. In my mind though it was gorgeous; absolutely beautiful.

Photo: Arabesque drawing by Harold Budd

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